By Ashley Shuler
Editor’s note: This is the 11th in a series of stories about new laws that are taking effect, most of them on July 1.
INDIANAPOLIS – The Cass County Memorial Center is a shell of what it once was.
The building, built in the early 1860s as a mansion and turned into a World War I memorial in the 1920s, was once a structure with ornate roof decorations, slender shuttered windows and a broad front porch with stone columns.
But now the roof needs repaired. The porch and foundation do, too. The mold from when the heating and air was shut off needs to go. The windows leak. Its stairs don’t comply with accessibility requirements.
The idea was for the city and county to preserve the building as a historic war memorial forever, even if it meant the governments now have to pour $2 million worth of repairs and additional money to maintain it over the years.
But Jim Sailors, a Cass County commissioner, says forever is a long time.
That’s why Senate Enrolled Act 456 is giving them an out.
The bill, co-authored by Sen. Randy Head, R-Logansport, and Sen. James Buck, R-Kokomo, was written to provide a solution for city and county governments that don’t have the money to maintain a war memorial.
The bill, which goes into effect July 1, lets municipal and county governments sell or give war memorials they’ve commissioned to a nonprofit organization to take care of. If multiple governments own the memorial, like how both the city of Logansport and Cass County do, all the governments would have to agree to the sale or gift of the memorial.
A photo of the house in the 1880s before it was given to the county as a memorial in the 1920s. The county has maintained the gift ever since, but a new Indiana law could give them an out if they can’t come up with the money to repair and maintain the center. Photo provided by the Cass County Historical Society.
If the nonprofit organization can’t continue maintaining the transferred memorial, the memorial would then revert back to the government or governments it started with. The nonprofit could also choose to demolish the building and construct another war-related memorial, like a stone, fountain or park, in its place.
“At least it gives you an avenue to do something other than just take care of it for life, no matter what the expense,” Sailors said.
Sailors said the building, even if repaired, isn’t suitable for apartments or offices, so it will never bring in enough revenue to cover the memorials operating costs, let alone make money for the city and county. The ballroom in the back of the building, the memorial’s only small source of revenue, hasn’t been rented in years because of the condition.
The Cass County Historical Society used to hold dinners in the building, but the venue stopped fitting their needs because their older members couldn’t access the building because of the stairs.
It’s a historical structure not even the historical society can use.
“I’d love to see it saved. We as a society would love to see it saved,” said Thelma Conrad, executive director and curator for the society. “But what can you say? Old buildings, if they’re not kept up, they just deteriorate. The thing that made this one different is that the city and county government couldn’t seem to agree on what was the best way to make that happen.”
Sailors said he isn’t sure fixing up and maintaining the Cass County Memorial Center is the best thing for the city and county governments, that already have a tight budget, as well as taxpayers in the area to spend their money on.
A portrait of the Cass County Memorial Center as it stands today. The building needs $2 million in repairs and even more money to maintain if the city and county want to continue controlling the property as a war memorial. Photo provided by the Cass County Historical Society
“I’m not sure everybody wants to support redoing that building, especially when we have memorials all over the city and county,” he said. “We’ve got memorials for every war.”
But still, the city and county plans to exhaust their options to see if they can get the funds to work on the building to keep it as a historical site in their possession.
“It’s still not going to be anything other than something someone gave us as a historical site,” Sailors said. “It is historical. There’s no doubt about that. But how that works out in the end, I don’t know.”
Rep. Bill Friend, R-Macy, sponsored the bill in the House. He said he’s happy with the outcome and is calling on the city and county governments in the area he represents to cooperate and find a solution.
“The purpose of the bill was to solve the problem of that decaying structure in Logansport and to make it also available to other communities around the state,” Friend said. “I think we accomplished that purpose, and now, it’s up to a not-for-profit organization or the governments to step forward with a plan.”
Ashley Shuler is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.